Introducing a Child to the Outdoors. What to Avoid.

One of the joys I find in being an individual who loves to get out in nature away from the sites, sounds, and smells of suburban and/or city life is the solitude (at times) and the feeling of being unplugged and enjoying in some way, shape, and form the raw existence of what surrounds us. I also enjoy very long run-on sentences and poor grammatical structure and execution but that is for another time.

What I also find appealing is being able to share this wonder with others who have either never experienced it before or who truly embrace it as I do. I find that nothing beats the excitement on a child’s face as they are camping and exploring new things that you cannot usually find in one’s backyard or at the neighborhood park.

My son simply loves to camp. If he had his way he would prefer we live out of our tent.

Me doing 'yardwork' in front of our new home. At least that's the way my son would like it to be.

When you introduce a child who by default usually have emotional, physical, and mental deficiencies things can get pretty miserable real quick if you’re not ready for them. By deficiencies I mean they cannot sort our their emotions at times, have shorter legs and are less able to climb and go for long distances, and aren’t fascinated by the Douglas Fir tree you just past on the trail. Maybe your child is perfect and never experiences this, but most children (including mine) are real children and not make-believe so measures have to be taken to ensure a good time.

With that being said without proper precautions your nice stroll over the hills, beside the river, to the lake, and through the woods will begin to morph from the ‘Crystal Lake Scenic Trail’ to the ‘Trail of Tears’. Something that no one wants to experience.

I don't care if your feet are bleeding, this is fun and you will like it!

What One Should Avoid While Hiking with a Young New Hiker

1. Making him/her the party packmule

In some social work/child abuse/human services circles I have heard whispers that loading your child down with all of your rain gear, food, first aid kit, etc is generally frowned upon. I think they said the same thing about the grandpa who took his grandkids hiking in the Grand Canyon….. the ‘g’ ‘r’ ‘a’ ‘n’ and ‘d’ buttons on my computer nearly came off in that last sentence.

Anyways, I suggest keeping the gear light on the kiddies. Since hydration is the number #2 rule on the trail with our little hiking partner (Safety First is rule #1) we saddle him with only his own water, a snack or two, and a extra shirt if that. I like using this pack or this pack for the little ones. It allows them to feel important carrying their own water and light gear. Equipped with a hydration pack they can sip water whenever they want through the tube which for them seems to be lots of fun.

2. Assuming they are Usain Bolt

Who? Usain Bolt is an Olympic sprinter and he’s kind of fast. I mean I think I could take him in race……if I broke both his kneecaps,  strapped him to the ground, and was given a 24 hr headstart I think I could edge him out. Gold medal sprinter my behind! The man couldn’t out-race a cripple (If it has taken this long to offend you then you might want to get that checked out. If you were offended then to you I say ‘you probably shouldn’t read this blog’….I load it with satire, sarcasm, and mildly to horribly offensive viewpoints and material, read at your own risk)

What he said was terrible, horrible, insensitive, but kind of true.

It’s a good thing to let them set the pace. We let our little hiker man lead and that way he dictates how fast he can go. This can get dicey if you don’t know the trail (tip #3 so be patient) so keep an eye on what’s ahead. Another good thing to do is time yourselves. Hiking trails that are shorter and less difficult generally are filled with interpretive signs, and mile markers. Use and watch the signs to estimate your pace. This will help you determine the time needed to finish a hike and how much time you might have to enjoy the scenery, eat a snack, and allow your child to run off into the woods to get covered in ticks, chiggers, and roll around in the poison ivy, oak, and sumac. Be sure to leave time for the fun stuff!!

3. Know the Trail: Difficulty, Length, Route

I tend to think it is a ton more fun just head out on a trail without knowing what we’re going to see, how long it’ll take, whether we’re going to suffer a 700′ elevation gain in a quarter mile stretch, or even if we’ll make it back alive. If you know everything ahead of time I mean where’s the surprise? What makes it even better is when you have a child along and you have no real answer to their endless line of questioning!

Child: “How much further?”

Parent: “Just over this next hill”

Child: “Are we ever going to get there?”

Parent: “Sure we are, with every step we get closer and closer”

Child: “Dad/Mom/Random Stranger Who Took Me Hiking (choose one please) do you know where we are?”

Dad/Mom/Random Stranger: “Of course……we’re on a trail, in the woods, and we’re hiking and having loads of fun!”

Child: “Where were you on the night of April 19th, 1986?”

Parent: “I plead the fifth”

Moving on……. knowing what the trail’s length is helps you to establish the minimum and maximum ranges for your junior hiking partner. Also knowing the terrain helps to determine how many stops you’ll need and what’s along the way to keep the child encouraged to continue.

Also knowing if it’s an end-to-end or a loop trail helps. You don’t want to make the mistake of saying you can catch it on the way back if you’re on a loop. They tend to remember such things and never let you forget.

There is no fun in exploring when they tell you danger is ahead. Where is their sense of adventure?

4. Pack Energizing Snacks and Offer Incentives

I like to bribe my child……and police officers, judges, and political officials while I’m at it. Putting people ‘in my pocket’ is a hobby for me.

While on the trail I use ‘Junior Hiker Prizes’ to encourage my son to continue on and keep the three rules of the trail.

1. Safety First

2. Hydration, hydration, hydration

3. Be kind and courteous

The last one is all-inclusive to nature, others, and especially the parents! The prize is usually an activity book, a pin or badge, or some small token. This encourages him to press on and finish the trail on his best behavior. Since he doesn’t have the same appreciation as I do for the trail, nature, scenery, and sense of accomplishment I bow to his immature understanding. I don’t offer the prize for every single trail but usually for a group of trails.

While on the trail I bring energizing snacks. Jelly Belly makes a sports bean that looks like one of their small tasty candy treats. It’s supposed to help with energy and endurance. You are supposed to hoover the whole bag of beans before an activity.

Personally I didn’t experience a difference in energy levels but at every stop I gave one bean to my son and it gave him ‘hiking energy’ and kept him ‘strong’ on the trail. The effect was more psychological but it worked. I later read that they shouldn’t be administered to children. So of course I bought 4 packs, put them in a cereal bowl for him, poured Red Bull over it and said ‘Breakfast is served!’ afterwards I drove him to school…….take that public school system!

Breakfast of Champions

If you’d like to call child services you can use my phone, they’re on speed dial.

Even if you don’t use energy beans other foods might encourage a young one to keep going. I suggest:

1. Fruit snacks (all natural if possible, but warning in hot weather these can become sticky goo)

2. Nuts (for the non-allergy types)

3. Breakfast cereal

4. Jelly beans

5. Dried fruit (also freeze dried fruit, we buy Just Fruit Munchies my son nearly ate the whole bag! What a moocher, boy needs to get a job and stop eating all my food) The freeze-dried fruits weighed in at 30z for the whole bag, about 1lb worth of fresh fruit. In a little baggy these energy snacks can help keep your mini-peakbagger moving at super-fast-lightning-speed.

In conclusion take the child out on a trail already, it’s important to get them started young so as they mature and grow the appreciation for our park and recreational use lands can grow with them. Force it down their throats so that years later when you’re older, far more tired, and your body can’t handle the stress of a 50 mile backpacking adventure you can strap the strong young back down with all the heavy stuff. They’ll be appreciative you introduced this lifestyle to them, because in the end it built character in them and it’s keeping the therapist they see twice a week employed.

So until next time….keep on hiking.

Categories: Backpacking, Camping, Family Vacation, Hiking | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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